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September 29, 2020

Nationalist duo

Ruling power leader Liviu Dragnea and Opposition leader Ludovic Orban met at the grave of Avram Iancu, in the Apuseni Mountains. Military leader of the Moti in 1848-1849, during the battles with Hungarian revolutionaries, today Avram Iancu is a symbol of Romanian nationalism. Consequently, numerous leaders have paid their respects to him in the last quarter of century, in the search for political legitimacy. Liviu Dragnea likes to wear traditional clothing as often as possible, posing as a man of the people, far from the arrogance of the city dweller or of the intellectual. This populist calculus – we can also suspect the influence of a skilled “spin doctor” such as Vasile Dancu, the secret aide of many Social Democratic leaders – also fits in with the current alliance with the Coalition for Family, traditionalist and implicitly xenophobic – it’s not by chance that the outlook of accepting refugees, no matter how few of them, is extremely unpopular in Romania. True, the negotiations with UDMR put Dragnea in a delicate position, the accusations that he is “selling out Transylvania” making a comeback with the relaunch of the political protocol with the Hungarians. However, nationalist hysteria aside, the real danger of inopportune and unpopular measures accepted as part of an exchange – meant for future tensions rather than a normalisation of inter-ethnic relations – remains. The case of the Catholic high school in Targu-Mures is significant.

Since a DNA investigation is also at stake, Liviu Dragnea took the opportunity to once again put the blame for the alleged backsliding on an institution that he sees as a personal adversary. However, the truth is that the setting up of the said high school took place in flagrant violation of the law. The question of its lack of advisability was not raised, so that today’s accusations regarding a principled opposition to a Hungarian-language high school are only a smokescreen. The issue is only one of legality, and the initiators forced the limits of the law, trying to solve locally what was the prerogative of the Education Ministry. Everything that followed, the hysteria stoked by Keleman Hunor, Viktor Orban or the Catholic archbishop, is just a perverse way of invoking the future of some children – who, it is true, are only the victims of some politicians without many scruples. The current compromise, which seals the UDMR-PSD rapprochement, only serves to perpetuate the lack of respect for the law.

As former minister Mircea Miclea accurately pointed out, the Hungarian Government’s intrusion is of ridiculous hypocrisy, considering that the CEU in Budapest has ended up under the Orban regime’s mailed fist in the name of national interest. In any case, even while wearing traditional pants, the Social Democratic leader will find it hard to make headway with Kelemn Hunor by his side, because UDMR has been masking for years its political immobility through inopportune demands and a repulsive versatility, being already perceived as one of the most reactionary local parties.

Ludovic Orban, half-Hungarian, is however just as tempted by the nationalist discourse. Out of opportunism, in order to attack the aforementioned alliance, Orban is ready to stake on a discourse periodically used by the Liberals – just like Crin Antonescu did during his political marriage with Victor Ponta. Not by chance, the Liberals will most likely position themselves also in favour of the Coalition for Family, the only difference between them and the Social Democrats being, after all, the temporary absence of the “scandalous” relationship with UDMR. Orban is staking on the reactivation of the right-wing, nationalist or conservative electorate – it is not by chance that he gave a warm welcome in the party to Mihai Neamtu, the main promoter of Donald Trump’s politics in Romania.

Fortunately, Romania is far from becoming a Poland or a Hungary, and the main reason for that is the significant level of Euro-optimism. After all, the millions of Romanians who are working in the West and sending money home, as well as those who see the EU as the only somewhat more efficient adversary of generalised corruption, are no longer sensitive to the nationalist discourse. And the rejection of UDMR’s politics is no longer done especially out of ethnic hatred, but because it is perceived as being far too compatible with Viktor Orban’s regime – which it was not during Marko Bela’s times. It is not ruled out that a more liberal alternative to the UDMR – one without nationalist stridencies – would appear in the future, far from those that have so far positioned themselves only much further to the right.

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